Edward Lodi,
Witches of Plymouth County & Other New England Sorceries
(Rock Village, 2004)

It seemed like a trip to Massachusetts would be a perfect time to read Edward Lodi's Witches of Plymouth County & Other New England Sorceries. Although I wasn't staying in the Plymouth area, Gloucester isn't too far up the coast -- and, since we would be paying at least one visit to the notoriously kitschy Salem, witches seemed a timely topic.

But the book, although pleasant enough, was largely unsatisfying. Lodi has a nice enough way of telling his tales -- or, in many cases, simply reprinting stories from other sources. He is, to be fair, credited on the cover as the editor and compiler of the collection, after all -- he's not seeking an author's credit.

But the book wanders. There's no real sense of place -- he leaves Plymouth often enough I question its use in the title. Sometimes, he even strays from New England entirely. And even within specific narratives -- usually about some poor old woman known as Mother So-and-So or Goodie Whosit -- Lodi wanders back and forth in the timeline enough to keep readers from getting a good sense of the history. And half the time when I sensed the nugget of a good yarn, Lodi provided such little detail that I put the book down, unsatisfied.

In many cases, when he doesn't hand off the narration to some previous writer's work, Lodi fails to let readers know the source of his story, so you're left wondering just how "true" the facts of the case might be. Are these legitimate legends about old New Englanders who earned a reputation for working witchcraft on their neighbors, or are these stories some eager counselor-in-training made up to enliven a quiet night by the fire in some New England camp?

I enjoy tales of hauntings and witchcraft as much as the next guy, and to my mind no region in America is better suited to the genre than Massachusetts. I've even enjoyed Lodi's work in the past. But I doubt I'll be using him as my tour guide of Plymouth County again any time soon.

book review by
Tom Knapp

7 September 2013

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